Rude TSA Officer: What Are Your Rights?

Rude TSA Officer-What Are Your Rights


Recently We Had a Rude TSA Officer Experience, or rather my husband had one. We were at Philadelphia Airport's Terminal F, prior to an American Airlines flight, and while our boarding passes had TSA PreCheck on them thanks to our membership in Global Entry, there's no separate TSA PreCheck line. Instead, there was just a single long line and two baggage screening machines.

My husband went through, but inadvertently had left about a quarter cup of water in our reusable water bottle, which was flagged. He asked politely if it could be dumped out and if necessary the bottle re-screened, but the TSA Officer rudely demanded that he go to the very back of the very long line. Understandably, my husband was flabbergasted and said something to the effect of “But I'll miss my flight! Can't you just re-screen the bottle without my going to the back of the line?”

Unsurprisingly, the TSA Officer dug in and insisted that my husband go to the back of the long line. It was only thanks to the kindness of other passengers in the line, who overheard the dispute and many of whom allowed my husband to go in front of them, that he was able to get back to the front of the line relatively quickly to re-screen the empty water bottle, and just barely made our flight.

Because I wasn't in line with my husband at the time, having already cleared security separately ahead of him, even I was surprised at the instruction to go to the end of the line–it isn't something we've ever experienced in the many TSA screenings we've gone through at other airports, primarily JFK, but also SFO and LAX. Maybe we've just been lucky in the past, but the whole incident sounded needlessly rude and like a blatant power trip on the part of the inciting TSA Officer.

Now, in my husband's case he was time-pressed, so following the (unreasonable) instructions and appealing to the decency of fellow passengers seemed the right thing to do given the circumstances. But if he'd had more time, I would have recommended getting the name of the rude TSA Officer and also politely asking to speak to a Supervisory TSO (STSO). If that didn't yield satisfaction, escalate to a Transportation Security Manager; a TSM is always required to be on duty at the airport, regardless of what you may be told.

TSA Management Directive 1100.73-5 Employee Responsibilities and Code of Conduct Section 5.D.(3) states that TSA Officers are responsible for “Exercising courtesy and tact (whether on or off duty) in dealing with…the traveling public, even in the face of provocation.”

That certainly wasn't what my husband experienced, and had he had more time, I'd have recommended that he have complained to the STSO. In legal proceedings that have resulted in TSA Officer removal, taking the time to file a complaint immediately after the incident occurs has lent credibility to the passenger's account, vs. an email complaint sent later.

Still, if time doesn't permit filing a complaint in person at the time (keep a paper copy of it) you can ask for the name of the inciting TSA Officer and file a TSA complaint online.

So in sum, you always have the right to:

  • Get the name of the TSA Officer you wish to file a complaint against
  • Speak to a Supervisory TSO (STSO)
  • If the STSO discussion isn't satisfactory, you can ask to speak to a Transportation Security Manager (TSM)
  • Make a complaint at the airport by asking for a comment card, and receive a paper copy of the complaint you made
  • File a TSA complaint online
  • Request that the Airport police supervise the TSA's proposed invasive search of your person.

If you've encountered a rude and/or unreasonable TSA officer, did you complain?

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3 Comments on "Rude TSA Officer: What Are Your Rights?"

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TSA Are A Waste

TLDR: TSA are power tripping wastes of space that need terminating.

Racist TSA agents
I had unfortunately been subjected to discriminatory behavior by a TSA pre check agent. At the SFO airport, an Asian couple in front of me was denied entry into the TSA pre check line despite them showing their global entry cards. When my turn came up, I too was denied entry to the line despite showing my card (I’m also Asian). When I asked her why, another agent jumped in and kept repeating, “No TSA pre-check”. They giggled and mumbled something in Spanish and would not allow me through the TSA pre-check line. I pressed on stating my global entry… Read more »